What’s So Great About Opera? Exploring Music’s Grandest Art

Clifford (Kip) Cranna / San Francisco Opera & University of San Francisco

It’s grand. It’s glorious. It’s larger than life. It’s over the top. It’s opera. As a comic once remarked, “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed, and instead of bleeding . . . he sings!” Well, yes, of course he sings. It’s all about the beautiful vocalism and glorious music, as intense human emotion comes to life in dramatic storytelling onstage. In this presentation, San Francisco Opera’s Kip Cranna will share his 40 years of experience as he explores the wonderful world of opera, using video examples (with English subtitles) to illustrate how opera got started and how it continues to have such power to stir our souls and touch our hearts. No previous opera experience necessary. Just watch, listen, and enjoy.


Discussion Questions:

1. Why did Florentine intellectuals in the late 16th Century develop the new art form that we now call opera? What were some of their aims and motivations?

2. What is meant by the term “trouser role” or “pants role?” Why did this tradition develop? What is the distinction between a trouser role and a castrato part?

3. What is meant by the term bel canto? How does it relate to Romanticism? Who are the best-known composers in this style? What are some of the most famous bel canto operas?

4. What is meant by the term verismo? What famous composers wrote in this style, and what are their most famous operas?

5. When an opera is being written, which comes first: the words or the music? Why?